I’m sitting with coffee and my laptop in the garden, trying to write. Writing things out is good for me, it helps clear my head and give me space. It’s something I *should* do, like getting up in the morning or eating properly – something that will make me feel better. And I need things to feel better because frankly, I don’t feel good at all.
I shouldn’t be sitting here at all, of course. I should be in work, rather than signed off because my brain feels like it’s imploding. Failing that I should be minding my daughter, rather than paying someone else to care for her because I’m not sure I can cope right now. Failing that, I should at least be doing the laundry, or putting away the Haloween decorations. But there’s six minutes left on the machine, and my daughter, too youn to understand that Halloween is over, is still enjoying the ghosts hanging from doorknobs. So I’m sitting, staring at the garden, waiting for my chilly fingers to release some of the jumble inside my head out into the world.
The lawn is covered in leaves, of course. I spend some of yesterday morning raking them in to piles, clearing spaces so I could plant the some spring bulbs. Yesterday was a good day, even though it was a Monday. I liked being down at the ground level, crumbling the earth through my fingers. I liked methodically raking leaves, thinking about nothing but whether or not that pile would blow away with the next gust of wind. Raking the leaves showed up all the patches in the lawn though. Places where we’d left windfall apples to rot, convincing ourselves it was somehow good for the garden. Places where leaves had piled up and smothered the grass underneath. Grass we’d had put in only a year and a half ago, after agreeing there was no other way (short of fire) to get the nettles under control. Grass we should have taken better care of, but I neglected it, and now there’s just patches of bare earth instead. And the nettles are starting to poke through again.
I didn’t let it get me down though. Gardening is like laundry, or parenting, or managing your mental health, or fighting for basic human rights – there’s always more to be done. Sometimes we forget for a while, or turn our backs hoping it will somehow miraculously get done without us. But look again and it’s still there, hedge overgrown, washing to hang up, the far-right is still organising, there’s Christmas presents to buy and oh look my brain is overwhelmed again. The work never stops.
But the patches in the lawn, those I have a handle on. Sure, I should have paid more attention if I wanted a perfect maicured lawn – but I don’t. I like things mixed up, a little chaotic, a little disordered. Just as well really. A stretch of grass grows long, filled with ground ivy and dandelions and nettles and some other weeds – just doing it’s own thing, providing food and shelter for whatever needs it. And the patches – well, that’s where the bulbs come in. After yesterday’s work, I’ve planted somewhere in the region of 200 bulbs – alliums, snowdrops, hyacinth, crocuses, tulips and of course daffodils. Wherever I uncovered a chunk of patchy grass, I grabbed my tools and a handful of bulbs, pulled up a circle of earth and dropped in a bulb. Gardening is always planning for the next season, the next year, for unknown tomorrows. Spring bulbs are like planting hope – hope that we’ll get through the winter, that spring will come, that there will be colour and beauty in this patch of dirt. And it’s about knowing that if the thing you hope for doesn’t come to pass – if you didn’t plant deep enough, or the frost comes too strong or too late, or the bulbs are past their best – that this is okay too. That maybe they just need a little more time, and there will be flowers next year. That maybe they will just die down and feed the soil, making it richer and darker and ready for the next thing. And maybe you’ll never know, but you’ll have to accept it anyway and wait for another tomorrow. That’s the thing with hope. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. But you still have to hope. After all, rebellions are built on hope.
So yesterday, I planted bulbs. It was a good day. I put random handfuls of tulips in my pockets, then remembered the advice about how you should keep them separate until planting, as yellow and red tulips bulbs look the same. Then I remembered I don’t care about things being perfect, and threw them onto the ground with glee. I noticed that some already looked like they might a bit too damp or a bit too dry. I remembered the advice to throw those away – then ignored it, and planted them with a little extra care, hoping they would manage anyway. I thought about how I should be making lunch, or doing laundry, or doing something else important. I ignored that thought, and kept digging. I thought about whether or not I should replace my bulb planter, and get a long-handled one so I don’t have to be down on my knees. Then I sat back on my heels, and remembered that I like the smell of the dirt, and kept digging. I thought about my great uncle, how he would love talking to me about daffodils and what to do with the holly bush. I thought about how much I missed him, and got startled when I realised it has been nearly ten years since he died. I kept digging, dropping pockets of hope into the ground, and firming the soil back down. I embrace my patchy lawn, my patchy mind, my patchy life – by filling the empty ground with hope for a chaotic colourful future.